The MD 500 light helicopter is the civilian version of the famous OH-6 Cayuse light reconnaissance helicopter, developed by McDonnell Douglas

The MD 500 light helicopter is the civilian version of the famous OH-6 Cayuse light reconnaissance helicopter, developed by McDonnell Douglas; Entered service in the US Army since the 1960s. With a particularly compact shape, like an egg, on the Vietnam battlefield, 964 out of the 1,422 OH-6As built for the US Army were destroyed, mostly from hostile ground fire.

OH-6 Cayuse was widely used to transport wounded and unarmed transport helicopters. It can perform reconnaissance missions at low altitude, while providing fire support to ground combatants with machine guns and rockets. The advantage of the OH-6 Cayuse was that it was very cheap, only around $20,000 each in 1962. They were agile and small enough to land where other helicopters could not.

North Korea MD 500E helicopters
North Korea MD 500E helicopters

OH-6 did not have strong armor in the face of enemy fire. Hundreds of OH-6As were shot down in the battlefields of South Vietnam. Upgraded versions MH-6 and AH-6 Little Bird continue to serve the current US military in Africa and the Middle East.

In February 1985, the US Department of Commerce revealed that it had discovered some irregularities in the company’s operations and some false claims about the shipment’s destination. For example, 15 helicopters were unloaded in Rotterdam, with the reason being that special equipment was installed, which were then loaded onto the Soviet cargo ship Prorokov. Prorokov then moved to North Korea.

Similarly, one cargo ship arrived in Japan, but transferred two helicopters to a North Korean cargo ship in Hong Kong. In fact, the Semlers run the Associated Industries, which was the secret owner of the Delta Avia company. Although 87 MD 500 helicopters were delivered, the remaining 15 were seized. Semlers was tried in 1987 for violating a law banning exports to North Korea.

It was alleged that Fluggeratte was simply a front company, to transport aircraft to North Korea, and that they were promised $10 million upon completion of the deal. US intelligence also discovered that the payments were going through Swiss bank accounts.

McDonnell Douglas was tricked into selling nearly a hundred reconnaissance helicopters to a country deemed hostile to the United States. The Semler brothers received relief from their penalties, claiming that the Behrens had misled them, in the destination of the helicopters.

Much later, the CIA revealed to be aware of the smuggling activity. It was operated by a North Korean military attaché in West Germany, and supported by a Soviet trucking company. However, the CIA refused to notify the civil authorities, for fear of revealing the embassy’s phone eavesdropping.


  1. Or you can simply buy a MD-500 from aircraft brokers on the 2nd hand market, then customize it, just like El-Chapo’s son did to get his personal gunship chopper! NoKo’s MD-500 are more likely used for VIP/brasses “personal vehicles” rather than gunships : NoKo has Mi-35 for such purpose


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